Sky-high pollution has prompted Delhi to consider full weekend lockdown | India

India’s capital, Delhi, and several surrounding states have closed schools, imposed work orders from home, and an entire weekend shutdown of the city is being considered in an attempt to tackle the deadly levels of pollution that have once again enveloped the region.

In recent weeks, in what has become a dreaded seasonal incident, Delhi has suffered pollution levels 20 times higher than the levels considered by the World Health Organization, and a thick brown smog has settled over the city.

The causes of the serious pollution that have made Delhi the most polluted capital of the world are a combination of factors including car exhaust fumes, stump burning of farmers in nearby states, industrial pollution, waste incineration and construction work.

The drop in temperature, the change in air pressure and the lack of wind when winter comes cause the pollution to be trapped over the city like a poisonous umbrella.

Delhi suffered a brief delay in November last year when Covid-19 reduced industrial activity and cars on the roads, but pollution has returned to the same lethal levels as before and in several days even hit a rating of 1,000 AQI in some areas – the highest charts can measure.

People walking outside have complained of stinging eyes, nausea, difficulty breathing and lethargy caused by the toxic air, and doctors reported a sharp increase in hospitalizations related to respiratory and heart problems.

The school closures in the capital, which came just weeks after reopening after 18 months of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, were accompanied by measures, including a halt to construction work, and drivers of Delhi’s 13m cars were asked to turn off their engines when stationary at traffic lights.

Commuters are driving along a road next to a subway line in New Delhi amid heavy smog
Commuters are driving along a road next to a subway line in Delhi amid heavy smog. Photo: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images

Delhi’s state government has also said it is ready to impose an emergency stop over the weekend, similar to the one first implemented under Covid, to ease pollution levels when the Indian Supreme Court convened it to demand answers on how the pollution was handled, says it required “drastic steps”.

The court reprimanded the Delhi government for “passing the money out” and ordered it to hold an emergency meeting within 48 hours with the central government to find concrete ways to tackle the pollution.

However, the Delhi government told the judges that a shutdown would have “limited” impact unless imposed on all neighboring states.

Other North Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have also placed work orders from home this week as air quality declined. The Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, ordered that people use public transport rather than cars and that the ban on stump burning be fully enforced

In October, the air in Delhi was at its cleanest for years due to delayed monsoon rains, but the situation quickly began to worsen, after Diwali, in the first week of November, when the temperature and wind in the city dropped, fireworks were set off. the city despite a ban, and millions of cars – consistently the biggest source of pollution from the capital – were on the roads. In recent days, stump burning from farms in adjacent rural areas has been responsible for up to 48% of the pollutants in the capital’s air.

A survey conducted this week by the digital community platform Local Circles showed that 86% of the families surveyed in Delhi had someone who experienced ailments including sore throat, congestion, difficulty breathing and headaches due to the toxic air. The pollution is also known to have long-term consequences. A study published in a scientific journal this year showed that a third of the deaths in India – more than 2.5 million people – were the result of air pollution.

Delhi government has taken steps to reduce pollution in recent years, including closure of all coal-fired power plants, expansion of public transport networks, which now run only on natural gas, ban on diesel trucks driving into the city during the day, coercive a clean fuel policy and regulatory construction.

Smoke towers, erected by the Delhi government to filter the city air, seemed to have little influence.

New Delhi
A poll showed that 86% of the families surveyed in Delhi had someone who had ailments including sore throat, congestion, difficulty breathing and headaches. Photo: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images

Anumita Roy Chowdhury, CEO of the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, said: “We can do nothing about the weather, but we should be able to control the pollution. There are still certain sectors where we have to do much more, especially the number of private vehicles in the city, which are exploding right now because public transport and pedestrian infrastructure have not been built to the scale needed.Waste incineration is also a huge problem, and so is the booming construction sector . ”

However, she stressed that the pollution was not Delhi alone. “If you take a satellite image of the whole of northern India right now, you will see that the smog problem has built up all over the Indo-Gangetic plain, which means that this is not a problem that Delhi can solve within its own borders, ” she said. “This requires a strong regional approach. And a lockdown is not a silver bullet that will make all the pollution go away. “

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